Today, I want to address ADHR's comments:
It's not incoherent to insist that some x is intrinsically valuable (people should want to pursue or promote x) and yet people may not want to pursue or promote x. The simplest case of this is when people fail to recognize that x is intrinsically valuable; more complex cases may involve some sort of akrasia (weakness of the will).
I think this line of argument would have more punch if you turned it squarely against the internalism, arguing that there's something strange about the idea that normative reasons must motivate us to act.
Taking the first item first.
There is a distinction between two different families of claims that is important here.
There is the question of whether it is coherent to say that X is intrinsically valuable, but A is not motivated to bring about or preserve X. ADHR says that it is coherent, as when X is intrinsically valuable but A is not aware of this value.
I agree with this.
ADHR brings up another example of 'akrasia' or 'weakness of will'. This is when a person realizes that something has intrinsic merit, but is not sufficiently motivated by this intrinsic value to overcome basic desires. For example, an alcoholic may realize the virtue of sobriety but not sufficiently to give up the habit of drinking.
In light of this, ADHR thinks that I should argue that there is something strange about the idea that normative reasons must motivate us to act.
As if I agree with him on this statement.
Which, I do.
Agree with him, that is.
Okay, let's look at the details.
All 'ought' or 'should' statements make some type of reference to reasons for action. To say that something 'ought' or 'should' be done, while asserting that there is no reason for doing it, is more than strange, it is incoherent.
I hold that the only reasons for action that exist are desires.
In recent discussion we have distinguished between drive-desires and value-desires. On this distinction, the only reasons that exist are drive-desires. What passes for 'value desires' is simply the recognition that some drive-desires are more useful than others, when it comes to fulfilling other drive-desires. Thus, our drive-desires give us reason to promote some drive-desires over others, and even reason to inhibit drive-desires that thwart other desires.
So, desires are the only reasons-for-action that exist. People still believe in other types of reasons for action; intrinsic value, divine essence, whatever. People can make sensible 'ought' or 'should' statements by referring to these reasons for action. However, because these reasons for action do not exist, any argument built on these types of reasons for action is built on false premises. Their conclusion might still be true, but it is only accidentally or coincidentally true.
So, if every true normative claim talks about reasons for action, then does it not follow that normative reasons must motivate us to act? What sense does it make to say that I have a reason for action that I can sensibly ignore and refuse to act on – or refuse to consider, even if my considerations are outweighed by even stronger reasons not to act.
Because . . .
Okay, desires are the only reasons for action that exist. However, the only desires that motivate my actions are my desires. If you want to motivate me to act, then you need to show me how a state of affairs relates to my desires. Telling me how a state of affairs relates to desires that are not mine – to my neighbor’s desires, for example – will motivate me to act only insofar that I am motivated to see my neighbor’s desires fulfilled. That is to say, I must have a desire that my neighbor’s desires are fulfilled, or at least a desire that is fulfilled by a state in which my neighbor’s desires are fulfilled. If this is not the case, then I have no reason to act.
If, as it turns out, I hate my neighbor, then your news that X will fulfill my neighbor’s desires might motivate me to act so as to make X impossible. This way, I can thwart my neighbor’s desires (which I may well have motivation to do based on my own desires).
The thesis that ‘normative reasons must always motivate us to act’ turns out, in the real world, to mean that ‘the only normative reasons that exist, when it comes to my actions, are my own desires’.
I have argued earlier that my actions are only truly mine if they come from my desires. If Tim over there, with his remote control, is able to move my body, rather than me, then the fact that the actions are proximately connected to his desires and not mine means that the actions being performed are his actions and not mine. If he should direct this body to kill his ex-girlfriend, he would be the one guilty of murder, but not me. He might be able to engineer that I be convicted of that murder, but I (meaning this bundle of desires that I have) am not morally responsible for that murder. He is – because his desires were proximately at the helm of those actions.
So, if normative reasons must motivate us to act, then the only normative reasons that exist for or against my actions are my desires – in precisely the strength that I desire them. Other people’s desires are relevant only insofar as other people serve as a means to the fulfillment of my own desires.
Objectively, relationships between states of affairs and desires that are not mine are just as real as relationships between states of affairs and desires that are mine. Not only are they real, but they are important. We have a lot of very good reasons to talk about and to think about relationships between states of affairs and desires that are not our own.
These desires that exist that are not my desires are still reasons for action, even if they are not reasons for my action. They still motivate people to act in different ways, even though they do not motivate me to act in those ways. They are reasons that people can talk about that are not their own and may not motivate them, but reasons that are real and that a rational person would be unwise to ignore.
As it turns out, other people’s desires are reasons for action for me in a sense in that it is reasons for action for them to do things that affect me. So, if people generally have a reason for action to promote X, then they have a reason for action to change my desires, or to create an environment where I can best fulfill my desires by also promoting X. It means that they have reason to thwart my desires if my desires would get in the way of promoting X. All of these relationships connect the reasons for actions of others with my reasons for action. However, none of them, by their mere existence, necessarily motivate me in any way.
Why would we have invented a language where people were only allowed to talk about relationships between states of affairs and their own desires, but not allowed to talk about relationships between states of affairs and desires not their own? If we are permitted to talk about relationships between states of affairs and desires not our own, what language would we use to do this?
Normative language discusses all reasons for action; mine, yours, ours, theirs, even reasons for action that do not exist. Or, if it isn’t, then we are in desperate need to make some significant adjustments to our language.
Specifically, I argue that moral claims have to do with what reasons for action people generally have reasons to act so as to promote and inhibit. If you were to tell me that ‘people generally have reason to act so as to promote a love of truth,’ this does not imply that I have a reason to act so as to promote love of truth (though, as a part of ‘people generally’, it is more likely that I also have reason to promote a love of truth than that I do not).